Developing ‘inheritance’ mapping

Louise Taylor is in the second year of her sociology degree at Cardiff University. This summer she took part in a Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP) placement at the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD). Louise has been working with Dr Esther Muddiman on a project about intergenerational values. Louise recently presented a poster on her work as part of the CUROP & CUESIP Poster Exhibition Event, which took place at Cardiff’s City Hall on Wednesday 18th October 2017.

I have been involved with a project that looks at how values and behaviours linked to civil society are passed between family members. The project began with a questionnaire completed by teenagers, their parents, and their grandparents. The survey included questions on a range of issues including politics, religion, the Welsh language, involvement with volunteering and the local community, and views on a range of different social issues.

Just under 1,000 13 to 14-year-olds completed the questionnaire in schools across south and west Wales, with around 150 parents and 60 grandparents returning completed surveys to us. The next stage of research involved interviews that  allowed participants to answer in greater depth what they felt they had passed on to younger family members and what they wished they had passed on.

Due to our focus on intergenerational family relations, similarities and differences, we wanted to create a family tree linking the participants, to help us to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of each family. In addition to piloting the inheritance mapping technique as a participant-led project, I also experimented with different mapping techniques based on transcripts of interviews with grandparents conducted by the research team. I included anything that we felt necessary to understand the relationships between the members, such as background information and details of the participants’ day-to-day activities and any factors that influence their values occurring outside the family.

I then colour-coded the different factors specific to each family. Figure one shows the intergenerational patterns of involvement with sports, politics and cooking, for example, the purple line shows that this participant enjoyed cooking with their grandchildren. It also shows tensions between family members, like the blue line between the husband and daughter.

Figure One

Figure One

I also experimented with using a pin board and coloured thread to create a more tactile family tree (see figure two).

Figure Two

Figure Two

When creating the maps it was important to show the correct path of transmission, which involved making sure the string always linked back to the original person instead of just jumping to the next person (see figure three).

Figure Three

Figure Three

This method allowed us to have a visual representation of the values that are being passed on and enabled us to see the overall strength of transmission by looking at how much is being passed on. However, it can give the impression that some family members do not directly influence a participant’s life, when in fact they may have passed on important traits that were not discussed in the interview.

While these maps alone cannot tell us all we need to know about how values and behaviours get passed between family members, they provide a useful method for visualising family relationships and establishing patterns of transmission across different family contexts. Looking forward, it would be helpful to consider how to show the direction of transmission (whether upward or downward), and to use line thickness to show how close or distant relationships or links are.

My next steps after the project are to complete my final year, including doing a dissertation. This placement has helped me to choose my topic and has also introduced me to lots of people who will be able to help me. By being involved with the project it allowed me to see whether researching would be something I would like to pursue as a job in the future. I loved my time at WISERD and researching is definitely something that I’d like to pursue, hopefully by doing my master’s next year.

This work formed part of this month’s Civil Society seminar looking at ‘the role of the family in civil society’, which took place at Cardiff University on Wednesday 11th October 2017.

Louise worked alongside another placement student, Josie Phillips, who was also involved in the inheritance mapping project. Read Josie’s blog here.